Aaron Wiggins took a deep breath, looked at his phone, pressed record and let out an emphatic, “AAAHHHH!”
It startled everyone in the room.
It was just moments after his name had been called as the 55th pick of the NBA Draft and Wiggins was with his family in his home state of North Carolina watching the event unfold. Admittedly, when the selections reached the 50’s Wiggins began to feel the nerves of the unknown. So, when he finally heard the Oklahoma City Thunder picked him up late in the second round, the excitement overcame him to the point where the 22-year-old posted a raucous, wordless video of him shouting into the camera with a brand-new Thunder hat atop his head.
That same night, the 22-year-old sat on the edge of his bed in disbelief. His pathway over past five years flooded through his mind.
He had been a late bloomer in high school and didn’t receive much attention from colleges until his senior season when he transferred to Wesleyan Christian School in High Point, N.C. There, he teamed up with current Thunder player Jaylen Hoard for a season. Prior to that move, the thought of even having a signing day wasn’t on his radar. Then as a freshman at Maryland, it never occurred to Wiggins that his opportunity to play in the NBA would happen before he graduated. Wiggins closed out a breakout junior season by averaging 17.9 points and 6.6 rebounds over his last 12 games as a Terrapin. After helping his team to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Wiggins declared for the draft.
“I was kind of able to sit down on my bed and just think like I really got this,” Wiggins recalled. “It's right here so I'm just really grateful and excited to be here and looking forward to continuing to get better every day.”
"To compete with such great group of players at the highest level, we have worked hard and earned our position to be in."-Aaron Wiggins
Standing at 6-foot-6 with a wide 6-11 wingspan, Wiggins possesses the physical attributes that teams look for in any potential NBA player. Add on a 36-inch vertical and natural athleticism and Wiggins possesses a versatile ability to impact play on both ends of the floor.
“I was just blessed and grateful to be who I am and then have the traits that I have,” said Wiggins. “It just helps with who I am as a basketball player adds to my game, makes me a little bit more versatile. I'm very grateful to have the 6-11 wingspan, the height, athleticism. It just adds to the things I can do on the court.”
Wiggins put those physical attributes on display in his first Summer League game for the Thunder as he logged 13 points, five rebounds and three steals. Offensively, Wiggins’ footwork took the spotlight as he quite literally turned heads with crafty spin moves that led to layups. In the third quarter, after attacking to the middle of the paint, Wiggins picked up the ball at the elbow. He gave his defender a quick head fake before spinning back to the baseline, keeping his defender on his back as he stretched his 6-11 wingspan toward the rim for a scoop layup.
“Confident, aggressive player and he’s got really underrated footwork,” said Thunder Summer League head coach Grant Gibbs following the team’s first game of Summer League. “He’s very on balanced and under control when he drives it.”
“With the height and the length that I have you're able to finish over taller defenders, you're able to make plays,” said Wiggins. “I think just naturally you might have certain advantages over smaller guards or things like that. And then with my athletic ability I'm able to get to the rim use my athleticism to change directions and just make things happen.”
That wasn’t the first time Wiggins ever performed a pirouette. Wiggins has more than just his natural athleticism to thank for the footwork and balance he put on display in Las Vegas – he can also thank dance classes.
His mother, Serena Wiggins, encouraged all of her children to be involved in multiple extra-curricular activities. For Aaron, this meant he was taking ballet, jazz, hip-hop and tap dance classes until the seventh grade. In addition, he was also in church playing piano and playing the trombone in his middle school band. He also acted in his high school’s productions of High School Musical and Wizard of Oz.
“I like to think that, taking dance and doing all that kind of helped with balance, body control and things like that,” said Wiggins. “Looking back at it I'm grateful that I did all those things and kind of got to test it all out so it's just fun to look back at.”
Wiggins has also learned to use his height, length and agility to his advantage on the defensive end. His length causes disruption in passing lanes and on shot attempts, but according to Coach Gibbs, Wiggins also demonstrated an ability to learn the technical defensive concepts quickly during Summer League training camp.
“I’ve been really impressed with him defensively,” said Gibbs. “Obviously, he has the ability to move but he’s really quickly picked up on our help rotations and our schemes like someone who has been here longer than he has.”
“I mean with my length being able to get steals, play the passing lanes, alter shots and just have a huge effect on the defensive end, that's something that I take pride in,” said Wiggins.
The culmination of Wiggins’ natural abilities, hard work and winding path to the league culminated to more than just an outcry of emotion on draft night. The dance classes, the high school transfer, the time at Maryland all led to a precious opportunity with the Thunder where he now has a chance to showcase how all of those factors played a role in the player he is today. What Wiggins is looking forward to most though, is just to compete.
“To compete with such great group of players, guys who we're all at the highest level we all have worked hard and earned our position to be in,” said Wiggins. “Just being able to compete, get to know the guys and spend time with each and every person. I’m really excited for that.”